Get used to lackluster football
Over the past two weeks, we have seen many complaints in this paper about the lackluster performance of this year's football team.
Get used to it. The administration and the athletic department are no longer committed to producing an excellent football team. This can be best understood by examining its commitment to overall athletic excellence.
The administration is committed to turning Notre Dame into a top research university. They are also committed to having an athletic and industrious student body who will go on to be athletic and industrious bodies in some company, organization or law firm after their glory years at Notre Dame. Having a great football team is not necessarily part of this picture. Having many varsity sports that all do fairly well is.
Some may say that the football program brings in money. Yes, it brings in some money, but the money does not depend on the success of the team. Look at other great research universities — Stanford, Harvard and Princeton (schools often mentioned in debates about what kind of universities Notre Dame should imitate). They all have football programs, and the success of their programs has little effect on the ability of their development offices to bring in the money. Research, not football, brings in the big money.
Furthermore, the success of a football program does not affect fund-raising like we commonly think. Losing, rather than winning, brings in more money. People who study fund-raising at universities have offered some very compelling examples. Championship seasons do not bring more money from alumni to Notre Dame.
This also happens at other schools. For example, in the 1960s and the 1970s, when UCLA was winning basketball championship after basketball championship, gifts to the university actually went down. Columbia, known for its losing football program, gets less money from its alumni when the football team has a winning season.
TV ratings and merchandise sales also do not go significantly down when Notre Dame has a mediocre season. However, a representative of Frito Lay says that about half as many Frito Lays are eaten in South Bend after a loss than after a victory. Perhaps the bars also feel the pinch.
Thus, some might say that a losing football program has health benefits. The more we lose, the less Frito Lays we eat. We all know that Frito Lays have all those nasty fattening carbs in them. The less fattening carbs we eat, the less fat we get on our bodies. Perhaps the board of trustees, the administration and the athletic department are really expressing concern for our health when they make half-hearted efforts to maintain a good football program.
So what are the administration and the athletic department up to? They are de-emphasizing — not doing away with — football as a varsity sport. Notre Dame, over the course of the next decade or two, will slowly decrease the money and effort it puts into guaranteeing a championship level football program. At the same time, it will bolster the competitive level in non-marquee sports. So perhaps we should all start getting interested in attending diving, volleyball and soccer matches.
Over the past few years, the University has put a lot of money and effort to have big-time programs in more than just football. Observe the recent success of the women's soccer team and the women's basketball team.
I'm sure it's doing all it can to increase the competitive edge in other sports as well.
This is exactly what happens at schools like Stanford. The school has a football program, and it also has many other highly successful varsity athletic programs. The football program at Stanford is overall mediocre. They have many losing or .500 seasons. Once in a while, with the right coach and the right players, they produce a 9-2 or 10-1 season.
They might even get an occasional trip to the Rose Bowl. This keeps the name recognition of the program up, the hopes of alumni up, the hope of the students up and the money in the development office up. Stanford, however, does not have a great football program.
In the end, the debate about the football program versus other sports really misses the point, or it points to a deeper problem. This debate, as in most debates, comes down to money and success. The question is one of money and success — and that is the problem. Most debates in this campus, and in the culture at large, come down to what brings in the most money or what makes you the most successful in the eyes of the culture at large, as if bringing in the most money or having the best sports program are the highest moral or ethical goods we can achieve. They seem to have become ends in themselves.
Jeff Langan is a graduate student in the department of government.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, October 1, 1999